The silence before the genocide

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, center, meets with Rohingya Muslims at Kutupalong refugee camp, near the border town of Ukhia, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP/Saiful Kallol)

Deemed the “world’s most persecuted minority," the Rohingya people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) are the victims of what the United Nations defines as ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar government. Government officials claim insurgents are to blame for the spike in violence, as nine Myanmar troops were killed October of last year. However, human rights groups note abuses carried out by the Myanmar Army border on a systematic genocide.

So whose responsibility is it to call for peace and justice for the Rohingya people? It is ironic and disappointing that Nobel Peace Prize laureate and State Chancellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, either remains silent or does not directly acknowledge the plight of the Rohingya. Even though Suu Kyi does not hold power over her government’s military, she has not spoken up against its brutality. Fellow laureates like South African social activist Desmond Tutu are criticizing Suu Kyi’s adamancy to remain mum about the issue, rightfully stating that “silence is too high a price.” Even the international public recognizes Suu Kyi’s lack of action is unacceptable; there are several Change.org petitions calling to revoke her Nobel Peace Prize and title.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spoken to foreign government leaders on rare occasions. Most recently, on Sept. 5, she engaged in a telephone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey is one of the first countries to directly send aide to the Rakhinae state in Myanmar, where the Rohingya mainly reside. During the conversation Suu Kyi stated “we make sure that all the people in our country are entitled to protection of their rights." It is difficult to agree with the Myanmar Chancellor’s statement when the Rohingya have been denied citizenship for 35 years and are not a recognized ethnicity by Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law. Being stripped of citizenship leaves the Rohingya people stateless and without the right to vote, practice their faith, or even move, so how can those individuals who are not recognized as people of Myanmar be safe from the government?

Some of the heinous crimes committed by the Myanmar Army include killing children, rape, torture, and arson. In the past two weeks alone the United Nations approximates 270,000 Rohingya have fled military aggression in Myanmar to neighboring nations like Bangladesh. However, even those fleeing are targeted; Amnesty International reports the Myanmar Army is planting “internationally banned antipersonnel landmines” along the neighboring Bangladesh border. With the Myanmar military’s breaking of international regulations exposed, one would expect the White House to promptly express its criticism; however President Trump has failed to release a statement. There is no need for United States military intervention when America has the power to stop the military aggression through shaming the Myanmar government alone. President Trump has an opportunity to add a much needed highlight to his foreign policy portfolio. A single statement of denunciation of the Myanmar government by President Trump may not only trigger neighboring countries to provide more aid efforts but perhaps even a ceasefire and solution. A direct phone call to Aung Suu Kyi by the President, not a United States ambassador, may even persuade her to publically condemn the vicious Myanmar military crackdown.

While we wait for the United States President and Nobel Peace Prize laureates to recognize injustice let us, the academic community, urge awareness about the issue. It is important to remain observant of any crimes against humanity because, though it’s not immediately apparent, we are directly affected. It is little a known fact that the greatest influx of refugees to the US are from Myanmar, not Iraq or Syria. If the Myanmar military is already breaking international rules, it’s because the army thinks no one is watching. Why is it that we still can’t, even in this social media generation, recognize a situation that is shaping up to be under the “The World’s Worst Genocides” section of our history books?


Fajar Alam is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at fajar.alam@uconn.edu